There is plenty to rightly celebrate about the past, present and future of the Borough of Crawley in its 70th Anniversary year. In Crawley , we have so many things to be proud of and, nationally, we are also urged to be proud of our apparently distinctive British values.
And yet no more than a couple of miles from the town centre and within the borough of Crawley, a recent Panorama report documented what appeared to be systematic abuse of fellow human beings at Brook House – human beings who were not serving imprisonment for a criminal offence but awaiting decisions about whether or not they should be allowed to remain within Britain. Brook House ‘Immigration Removal Centre’(IRC) is on the southern fringes of Gatwick Airport. In my view, this programme was shocking and shaming.
Brook House is run on behalf of the Home Office by G4S, the largest security services company in the UK. Around 500 male detainees are held indefinitely at Brook House whilst their cases are considered.
Concern about the content of the Panorama programme has been expressed at parliamentary level by the Home Affairs Select Committee. Televised oral evidence at a recent hearing gave considerable support for the concerns raised by the Panorama programme and a number of G4S employees have since been dismissed.
Evidence given at the Select Committee was that 52% of the detainees at Brook House were released back into the community ie not ‘removed’ from the country at all.. Also it was stated that it is not uncommon for detainees to be released and simply left outside the entrance to Brook House to fend for themselves.
Also, according to evidence given at the Select Committee, each of these detentions costs the British taxpayer more than thirty thousand pounds annually. Many of those detained have lived in Britain for many years – possibly from childhood – and have not committed any criminal offence although others have served criminal sentences and are then further detained for long periods awaiting possible deportation to a foreign country.
A 2013 report after an unannounced visit led by Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Prisons, found problems with the provision of legal advice for detainees, a slow pace of immigration casework and high levels of self harm caused by frustration. ‘Although detainees could be out of their rooms for extended periods, they were locked up too early at night, and it was not clear why they had to be locked up at all’
Over a year ago, I visited Brook House and spent an hour or so with a detainee who told me that he had lived in London since childhood but had recently been apprehended and taken to Brook House where he was waiting indefinitely for his case to be considered. Whilst his living conditions were relatively comfortable and he had his own room, he told me that he was locked in his room for 18 hours a day and that his room was unventilated. His main concern was poor access to routine healthcare- despite requests - and when he had been hospitalised in London, he was chained to his bed.
My particular concerns were with Health provision for detainees. I am quite familiar with the work of the Care Quality Commission and saw a report for the ‘Gatwick Cluster’ (at the time, Brook House, Tinsley House, nearby, and The Cedars south of Pease Pottage). Of the three, Brook House is by far the biggest and The Cedars has subsequently been closed. The CQC report from 2014 gave the Cluster a ‘good’ rating across the five categories – but the report admits that it was based only on a visit to The Cedars where paperwork was checked and some staff interviewed – but there were no detainees present to be interviewed! So Brook House – with around 500 male detainees was judged as ‘Good’ based on no evidence whatsoever! There have been no CQC reports since.
As President John F Kennedy said ‘The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened’.
Cllr Geraint Thomas